In 2001, my dad and I were fishing a part of the Lower Deschutes we had never visited, the blue ribbon section of water from Warm Springs to Trout Creek. There were reports of record numbers of steelhead in the river and the uncharacteristically cloudy weather made chances better than normal for getting lucky. And I was feeling lucky, it was my birthday.
About halfway through the day I landed my first steelhead on a fly rod. It was an awesome battle and after it ended I remember sitting back against the riverbank watching the low clouds swirl and recede upstream to the southwest. The scene changed dramatically as the skies started to clear. Suddenly everything was bright, the sun glaring of off the water almost blinding. I rifled through my pack and eventually located my sunglasses. When I looked back up the entire sky was blue and mirrored in the crystal waters, up the hillside in front of me, was a cliff line of golden columns glowing in the afternoon sun. A couple days later I hiked up to the cliff and climbed what later became known as The Space Between. That lucky birthday led to one steelhead dinner and, in the years since, countless servings of humble pie.
A little fishing around Central Oregon revealed some knowledge of the place by Smith Rock’s old guard and limited activity on the obvious west-facing wall. After getting the go-ahead from the early visitors I could track down, I replaced the half a dozen or so aging ¼ inch bolts and faded webbing anchors left behind in the 80’s and started picking away at the obvious plums with my brother and a few friends. A year later there were 20 climbs added to the mix. Today Trout Creek offers visiting climbers over 130 routes with most classics ranging from 5.10 – 5.13. All popular routes are equipped with chain anchors and steel lowering carabineers for safety and convenience. Most of the climbing is straightforward with excellent protection and for many years, almost all of the development was done on-sight. In fact, classics were being sent first try even as late as 2008 when Will Stanhope casually dropped in and added Winter Sustenance and Full Clip one empty April afternoon.
For the decade or so after first spotting the cliff, Trout Creek became my second home. I had my first date with Casey (now my wife) at the crag, we practically raised our dogs at the area. When the youngest, Muddy, was still too little to climb the hill, we carried him up in a pack. To this day Muddy is best behaved and seems most content hanging at one of his perches along the Main Wall.
Over the years, the beautiful position of the crag seemed to have a similar effect on more and more people. A small community of climbers grew into a large family. We egged each other on at the crag and later during nighttime One Armed Weasel bouldering sessions, we maintained a community bucket filled with information and safety items, we spotted cougars on the way to the cliff and sometimes in the campground, we had icy swimming challenges, trundled giant chunks of columns, and rolled the ”cube” around the fire, we sketched across snow covered columns, organized trail building parties, had run-ins with snakes, poison oak, ticks, black widows in outhouses, even animal traps by the river. Along the way we developed working relationships with landowners, camp hosts, hunters, fishermen, boy scouts, cavers (yes, cavers), Fish and Game officers, local newspaper reporters, trail building specialists, Oregon Field Guide staff, the Madras police department and most critically to the area’s future, with wildlife biologists and policy makers at the BLM.
What could have resulted in a blanket closure of the area due to several Golden Eagle nests located between the SW corner of the Main Wall and Cool Wall evolved into a cooperative effort. Representing climbers at the table with the BLM, our mission was simple: To ensure the safety of the Golden Eagle while advocating for climbers’ rights as a responsible user group. In a show of good faith, and a test of community follow-through, the first seasonal closure in 2012 was voluntary. It was 100% successful in terms of climber compliance. This made a HUGE and positive difference for moving forward in talks with the BLM. Additionally, support from the Access Fund, The Crag Law Center, The American Alpine Club, and letters from many a climber led to a policy that should be sustainable so long as climbers continue to honor the following closure: January 15th – August 15th (This closure includes hiking on the hillsides) If the Golden Eagles do not have a viable nest in the area by May 14th, the area will open to user groups on May 15th.
So far, climbers have adhered to the seasonal closure but if that changes the area could face permanent closure. Bottom line: Follow the rules and protect future access. More importantly, follow the rules and protect Golden Eagles and the territories they staked out long before any of us came along to go rock climbing.
The impact of climbers, even when the area is empty for part of each year, can be significant. There are no facilities at the cliff. If you need to relieve yourself, please do so in minimally impactful ways and search out an area away from gathering points or the cliff. Also, left over tape, chalk, beer caps, cigarette butts, or other items not really considered garbage in many parts of the world are, in fact, garbage. Please do the right thing(s) in terms of impact and encourage others too also. Together we can all protect the experience and the environment out at Trout Creek.
See you up there,